Rugby player from Bristol joins Team BRIT in its journey to Le Mans

A keen amateur rugby player from Nailsea near Bristol has joined motorsport’s most inspirational racing team.

35-year-old James Russell has become one of the newest rookie drivers to join Team BRIT on its journey to become the first ever all-disabled team to race in Le Mans.

The team, which to date has consisted of drivers who are ex or serving military troops, and who have each sustained serious injuries, has opened its doors to civilian disabled drivers and James is amongst the first of these to join the team.

Originally from Bristol, and having grown up in Clevedon, James lives with his wife Charlotte and two children.  James was born with a congenital defect to his right lower leg, missing the fibula bone and the remaining tibia being angulated. This resulted in him having a short lower leg and an incomplete ankle.  James underwent surgery when twelve months old to straighten the leg out, and now wears a prosthetic leg. James also has a finger missing from his right hand and a mal-rotation of the bowels, again as a result of his congenital defect.

James works as a technical author in the oil and gas industry, having previously worked in aerospace and defence, including on a number of military projects.  

He has been a keen rugby player since being at school and has played for Clevedon Rugby Club for more than 20 years.  His prosthetic leg does not hold him back, but he has to cover it with a bandage to protect other players! He swam for the South West at national swimming events in his younger years winning many gold medals, and achieved National Champion Status in backstroke.

Although he doesn’t have much competitive driving experience, he has taken part in talent days hosted by Disability Sport England and was selected to train with the Bristol and GB rowing squad.

Having learned about Team BRIT and its aims, he took part in the team’s first ever Rookie Day on August 21st, where he was assessed for his potential as a driver.

James passed this stage and will now be working towards his required ARDS (Association of Racing Drivers School) licence which will enable him to race competitively.

The team is currently competing in the Fun Cup championship – the first stage of its motorsport journey towards Le Mans and recently completed ‘the Longest Race in the World’ at Circuit de Spa Francorchamps – a 25 hour endurance race.

The team has developed the world’s most advanced hand control technology to allow its drivers to compete on equal terms with able-bodied competitors.  These controls will be specially adapted for each driver, allowing drivers with varying disabilities, such as James who has a prosthetic, and double-leg amputee Andy Searle, to race as part of the same team.

Former stunt actress, Muay Thai fighter and international model, Olivia Jackson, who had her left arm removed following a stunt accident, was also recently announced as a new civilian rookie driver.

The team is not a charity, but a competitive racing team like any other, with each driver being taught the business of motorsport.  Powerful partnerships are set up with corporate backers such as title sponsor Brit Insurance, and James will be working to engage with personal sponsors to progress his driving career.

James said: “I am thrilled to have become a part of the team. I have always loved cars and have always been a bit of a petrolhead, so when I saw information on Team BRIT on social media, I knew I just had to try and get involved.

“Having been born with a disability, I really don’t let it affect me as I have never known anything different.  There are times when  I have to make adjustments, such as taking my leg off to go for a swim and only being able to drive automatic cars, but apart from that, it’s just a matter of, shoving my leg on and getting on with it!

“I’ve played full contact able-bodied rugby for the last 23 years, for a team that are in good league, so not much stops me. I'm all about stopping other people and seeing their reaction when they realise I only have one leg!  Being a driver with Team BRIT will let me compete against able-bodied competitors in a similar way which is fantastic.  I can’t wait to get out on the track.”

Follow James via Facebook at @JamesRussellRacing and via Twitter at @JVBR_Racing